WDTPRS 15th Ordinary Sunday – We can’t have a relationship with a formula
Today’s first major prayer for Mass was the in the 1962MR as the Collect for the Third Sunday after Easter. In the Novus Ordo editions of the Missale Romanum it is also the Collect for Monday of the third week of Easter season.
Today’s prayer goes back at least to the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary. My trusty edition of the 1570 Missale Romanum of St. Pius V and the subsequent 1962MR show the insertion of word – “in viam possint redire iustitiae” – not present in the more ancient Collect in the Gelasian (though it was present in some other ancient sacramentaries).
The 1970MR and subsequent editions have returned to the more ancient version, dropping iustitiae.
Stylistically, this is a snappy prayer, with nice alliteration and a powerful rhythm in the last line.
Deus, qui errantibus, ut in viam possint redire,
veritatis tuae lumen ostendis,
da cunctis qui christiana professione censentur,
et illa respuere, quae huic inimica sunt nomini,
et ea quae sunt apta sectari.
It is hard to know what the sources influencing this prayer might be. Certainly we can find John 14, which we shall see below. Can we find in the Collect a trace of the Roman statesman Cassiodorus (+c. 585 – consul in 514 and then Boethius’ successor as magister officiorum under the Ostrogothic King Theodoric)? He wrote, “Sed potest aliquis et in via peccatorum esse et ad viam iterum redire iustitiae? But can someone be both in the way of sins and also return again to the way of justice?” (cf. Exp. Ps. 13). Otherwise we might infer a touch of Milan’s mighty Bishop Ambrose (+397) or even more probably Augustine of Hippo (+430) who use similar patterns of words. Note especially the presence of “iustitiae” in Cassiodorus’ phrase.
Your rapid consultation of the thorough Lewis & Short Dictionary informs you that the verb censeo, though quite complicated, is primarily “to estimate, weigh, value, appreciate”. It is used for, “to be of an opinion” and “to think, consider” something. There is a special construction with censeo, censeri aliqua re meaning “to be appreciated, distinguished, celebrated for some quality”, “to be known by something.” This explains the passive form in our Collect with the ablative christiana professione. Getting this into English requires some fancy footwork. Censeo here retains a meaning of “be counted among” (think of English “census”). We can get the right concept in “distinguished” since it can mean both “be counted as” as well as “be celebrated for some quality.”
Christianus, a, um is an adjective with the noun professio. When moving from Latin to English sometimes we need to pull adjectives apart and rephrase them. We could say “Christian profession”, but what this adjectival construction means here is “profession of Christ.” We find the same problem in phrases such as oratio dominica, which is literally “the Lordly Prayer” in English comes out more smoothly as “the Lord’s Prayer”.
Respuo literally means “to spit out” and thus “reject, repel, refuse”. The fundamental meaning gives a strong enough image for me to say “strongly reject”. The deponent verb sector indicates “to follow continually or eagerly” in either a good or bad sense. Sector is used, for example, to describe a group of followers who accompanied ancient philosophers, which is where we get the word “sect”. The word via needs our attention. It means, “a way, method, mode, manner, fashion, etc., of doing any thing, course”. There is a moral content to via as well, “the right way, the true method, mode, or manner”. Let’s get the ICEL version out of the way and then move to the right way to understand what the Collect really says.
O God, who does show the light of Your truth to the erring so that they might be able to return unto the way, grant to all who are distinguished by their profession of Christ that they may both strongly reject those things which are inimical to this name of Christian and follow eagerly the things which are suited to it.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
God our Father, your light of truth guides us to the way of Christ. May all who follow him reject what is contrary to the gospel.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
O God, who show the light of your truth to those who go astray, so that they may return to the right path, give all who for the faith they profess are accounted Christians the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the name of Christ and to strive after all that does it honor.
Our Latin Collect today brings some initial associations to my mind.
Ancient philosophers (the word comes from Greek for “lover of wisdom”) would walk about in public in their sandals and draped toga-like robes. Thinker theologians such as Aristotle were called “Peripatetics” from their practice of walking about (Greek peripatein) under covered walkways of the Lyceum in Athens (Greek peripatos) while teaching. Their disciples would swarm around them, hanging on their words, debating with them, learning how to think and to reason. They would discuss the deeper questions the human mind and heart inevitably faces and in this they were theologians. We must be careful not to impose the modern divorce of philosophy and theology on the ancients. In ancient Christian mosaics Christ is sometimes depicted wearing philosopher’s robes. He is Wisdom incarnate and the perfect Teacher. He is the one from whom we should learn about God and about ourselves. After Christ Himself, we also have His Church, who is Mater et Magistra – Mother and Teacher.
I am also reminded of the very first lines of the Divine Comedy by the exiled Florentine poet Dante Alighieri (+1321) who was heavily shaped and influenced by Aristotle’s Ethics and the Christianized Platonic philosophy mediated through Boethius (+525) and St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274). The Inferno begins:
Midway in the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.
Ah, how hard it is to tell
the nature of that wood, savage, dense, and harsh -
the very thought of it renews my fear!
It is so bitter death is hardly more so.
Dante, the protagonist of his own poem, is describing a fictional self. His poetic persona, in the middle of his life (35 years old), is mired in sin and irrational behavior. He has strayed from the straight path of the life of reason and is in the “dark wood”. The life of persistent sin is a life without true reason, for human reason when left to itself without the light of grace is crippled. Dante likens his confused state to death. He must journey through hell and the purification of purgatory in order to come back to the life of virtue and reason. In the course of the three-part Comedy he finds the proper road back to light and Truth and reason through the intercession of Christ-like figures such as Beatrice and then through Christ Himself. In the Comedy, Dante recovers the use of reason. His whole person is reintegrated through the light of Truth.
Don’t we often describe people who are ignorant, confused or obtuse as “wandering around in the dark”? This applies also to persistent sinners. By their choices and resistance to God’s grace they have lost the light of Truth. God’s grace makes it possible for us to find our way back into the right path, no matter how far off of it we have strayed in the past. When we sin, we break our relationship with Christ. If in laziness we should refuse to know Him better (every day), we lose sight of ourselves and our neighbor; the Second Vatican Council teaches, Christ came into the world to reveal man more fully to himself (GS 22). Christ, the incarnate Word, tells us in the person of the Apostle St. Thomas: “‘Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way (via) where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way (via)?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way (via), and the truth (veritas), and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him…. He who has seen me has seen the Father’” (cf. John 14:1-6 RSV).
Not only we have the words and deeds of Christ in Scripture, God has given us in the Catholic Church herself a path to follow to happiness. We can stray off this sure path either to the right or to the left. Either way, too far right or too far left, we wind up in the ditch in the dark. When we have gone off the proper path and have left Christ the Way, we can return to our senses again and be reconciled with God and neighbor through the sacraments entrusted to the Catholic Church, especially in the Sacrament of Penance and then good reception of Christ in Holy Communion.
We Catholics, who dare publicly to take Christ’s name to ourselves, need to stand up and be counted (censentur).
In what we say and do other people ought to be able to see Christ’s light reflected and focused in the details of our individual vocations.
To be good lenses and reflectors of Christ’s light, we must be clean.
When we know ourselves not to be so, we are obliged as soon as possible to seek cleansing so that we can be saved and be of benefit for the salvation of others. We must also practice spiritual works of mercy, bringing the light of truth to the ignorant or those who persist in darkness either through their own fault or no fault of their own.
Every Catholic is called to evangelize, if not in an “official” capacity in the Church’s name, at least through the obligation we have as members of Christ’s Body the Church. Evangelization and the efforts of ecumenism are an obligation for every Catholic.
There are still people living in darkness. There are those who are living in the half light or partial shadows, the penumbra of the Truth.
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has reiterated the importance and obligation of every Catholic in this regard. This Christian Catholic duty means that we all need to know the content of the Faith so that we can communicate it.
And let it not be forgotten that the content of the Faith is more than things to be learned and memorized.
We can’t have a relationship with a formula.
The true content of the Faith is a divine Person, Jesus. He must be communicated to others in the fullness of what He Himself offers in the Catholic Church. We are His hands and voices. We must “preach” always and, as St. Francis of Assisi said, sometimes use words.
When people look at us and listen to us, do they see a black light extinguishing hole where a beautiful image of God should be?